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Martiniano R.,Trinity College Dublin | Caffell A.,York Osteoarchaeology Ltd | Caffell A.,Durham University | Holst M.,York Osteoarchaeology Ltd | And 18 more authors.
Nature Communications | Year: 2016

The purported migrations that have formed the peoples of Britain have been the focus of generations of scholarly controversy. However, this has not benefited from direct analyses of ancient genomes. Here we report nine ancient genomes (â 1/41 ×) of individuals from northern Britain: seven from a Roman era York cemetery, bookended by earlier Iron-Age and later Anglo-Saxon burials. Six of the Roman genomes show affinity with modern British Celtic populations, particularly Welsh, but significantly diverge from populations from Yorkshire and other eastern English samples. They also show similarity with the earlier Iron-Age genome, suggesting population continuity, but differ from the later Anglo-Saxon genome. This pattern concords with profound impact of migrations in the Anglo-Saxon period. Strikingly, one Roman skeleton shows a clear signal of exogenous origin, with affinities pointing towards the Middle East, confirming the cosmopolitan character of the Empire, even at its northernmost fringes.

News Article | November 23, 2015

Thousands of the Bibles were made in the 13th century, principally in France but also in England, Italy and Spain. But the origin of the parchment—often called 'uterine vellum'—has been a source of longstanding controversy. Use of the Latin term abortivum in many sources has led some scholars to suggest that the skin of fetal calves was used to produce the vellum. Others have discounted that theory, arguing that it would not have been possible to sustain livestock herds if so much vellum was produced from fetal skins. Older scholarship even argued that unexpected alternatives such as rabbit or squirrel may have been used, while some medieval sources suggest that hides must have been split by hand through use of a lost technology. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers, led by Dr Sarah Fiddyment and Professor Matthew Collins of the BioArCh research facility in the Department of Archaeology at York, developed a simple and objective technique using standard conservation treatments to identify the animal origin of parchment. The non-invasive method is a variant on ZooMS (ZooArchaeology by Mass Spectrometry) peptide mass fingerprinting but extracts protein from the parchment surface simply by using electrostatic charge generated by gentle rubbing of a PVC eraser on the membrane surface. The research, which is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), involved scientists and scholars from France, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, the USA and the UK. They analysed 72 pocket Bibles originating in France, England and Italy, and 293 further parchment samples from the 13th century. The parchment samples ranged in thickness from 0.03 - 0.28mm. Dr Fiddyment said: "We found no evidence for the use of unexpected animals; however, we did identify the use of more than one mammal species in a single manuscript, consistent with the local availability of hides. "Our results suggest that ultrafine vellum does not necessarily derive from the use of abortive or newborn animals with ultra-thin skin, but could equally reflect a production process that allowed the skins of maturing animals of several species to be rendered into vellum of equal quality and fineness." The research represents the first use of triboelectric extraction of protein from parchment. The method is non-invasive and requires no specialist equipment or storage. Samples can be collected without need to transport the artifacts—researchers can sample when and where possible and analyse when required. Bruce Holsinger, Professor of English and Medieval Studies at the University of Virginia and the initial humanities collaborator on the project, said: "The research team includes scholars and collaborators from over a dozen disciplines across the laboratory sciences, the humanities, the library and museum sciences—even a parchment maker. In addition to the discoveries we're making, what I find so exciting about this project is its potential to inspire new models for broad-based collaborative research across multiple paradigms. We think together, model together, write together." Alexander Devine, of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said: "The bibles produced on a vast scale throughout the 13th century established the contents and appearance of the Christian Bible familiar to us today. Their importance and influence stem directly from their format as portable one-volume books, made possible by the innovative combination of strategies of miniaturization and compression achieved through the use of extremely thin parchment. The discoveries of this innovative research therefore enhance our understanding of how these bibles were produced enormously, and by extension, illuminate our knowledge of one of the most significant text technologies in the histories of the Bible and of Western Christianity." Professor Collins added: "The level of access we have achieved highlights the importance of this technique. Without the eraser technique we could not have extracted proteins from so many parchment samples. Further, with no evidence of unexpected species, such as rabbit or squirrel, we believe that 'uterine vellum' was often an achievement of technological production using available resources." Since finishing the work, parchment conservator Ji?í Vnouček, a co-author on the paper, has used this knowledge to recreate parchment similar to 'uterine vellum' from old skins. He said: "It is more a question of using the right parchment making technology than using uterine skin. Skins from younger animal are of course optimal for production of thin parchment but I can imagine that every skin was collected, nothing wasted." Explore further: Researcher Uses DNA Testing to Unlock Secrets of Medieval Manuscripts More information: Animal origin of 13th-century uterine vellum revealed using noninvasive peptide fingerprinting, PNAS,

News Article | October 26, 2016

Archaeologists from the University of York have conducted pioneering analysis on historic ivory, revealing where East African elephants roamed and where they were hunted in the 19th century Eastern Africa has been a major source of elephant ivory for millennia, with a sharp increase in trade witnessed during the 19th century fuelled by escalating demand from Europe and North America. Desirable objects such as cutlery-handles, piano keys and billiard balls drove the extension of global trade networks and the industrialisation of the ivory-working industry. However, little was previously known about the precise origins of the hunted elephants and the trade-routes of primary suppliers at the time. Conducting isotope analysis on historic East African ivory and skeletal remains, providing information about an elephant's diet and therefore likely habitat, scientists were able to determine the origin of previously un-localised ivory and map elephant geography in the region. They found that ivory samples traded after 1890 match values of elephants living in forested interior regions of East Africa. This supports previous evidence suggesting that an increase in hunting resulted in the eradication of elephants from along the coast of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania by the mid-19th century, driving trade inland. Dr Ashley Coutu, lead researcher on the study and a Marie Curie Outgoing Global Fellow between York's Department of Archaeology and the University of Cape Town, South Africa, said: "Our results shed light on the significant historic ecological and socio-economic impact of the ivory trade, in addition to informing contemporary elephant conservation strategies. "Today, elephants live in national parks and game reserves in these same landscapes, but are more restricted in terms of their movement than they would have been in the 19th century. Our database provides information on the historical ecology of these animals before there were regulations on their protection. By understanding elephant movement in the past, our research could potentially provide data to improve wildlife corridors for the movement of elephants between national parks and game reserves, which can often cause human-elephant conflict in these regions." Professor Matthew Collins, Founder of BioArCh at York's Department of Archaeology and co-author of the paper, added: "Our findings help us to understand the interactions between humans and elephants during a time when there was an exponential demand for ivory from this region of Africa. "Isotope and DNA analysis is often used to track the source of illegal ivory today. Our database of isotope values for both modern and historic East African elephants will add to the body of growing data to help us understand and track elephant populations on the African continent."

Hofreiter M.,University of York | Collins M.,BioArCh | Stewart J.R.,Bournemouth University
Quaternary Science Reviews | Year: 2012

The last few years have seen an enormous proliferation of ancient biomolecules research, especially in the field of ancient DNA. Ancient DNA studies have been transformed by the advent of next generation sequencing, with the first Pleistocene sample being analysed in 2005, and several complete and draft genomes that have been compiled from ancient DNA to date. At the same time, although less conspicuous, research on ancient proteins has also seen advances, with the time limit for research on ancient biomolecules now extending to over 1 million years. Here we review which effects these developments have on research in Quaternary science. We identify several lines of research that have the potential to profit substantially from these recent developments in ancient biomolecules research. First, the identification of taxa can be made using ancient biomolecules, and in the case of ancient DNA, specimens can even be assigned to specific populations within a species. Second, increasingly large DNA data sets from Pleistocene animals allow the elucidation of ever more precise pictures of the population dynamic processes whereby organisms respond to climate and environmental change. With the accompanying better understanding of process in the Quaternary, past ecologies can also more realistically be interpreted from proxy data sets. The dominant message from this research so far is that the Quaternary saw a great deal more dynamism in populations than had been forecast by conventional palaeoecology. This suggests that reconstructions of past environmental conditions need to be done with caution. Third, ancient DNA can also now be obtained directly from sediments to elucidate the presence of both plant and animal species in an area even in the absence of identifiable fossils, be it macro- or micro-fossils. Finally, the analysis of proteins enables the identification of bone remains to genus and sometimes species level far beyond the survival time of DNA, at least in temperate regions, illustrating that precise data is now forthcoming from seemingly unlikely sources. Together, these approaches allow the study of environmental dynamics throughout a substantial part, and perhaps even the entire Quaternary (the last 2.6 million years). © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

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